1.1 BACKGROUND OF STUDY
The report of the 4th Food and Agriculture Organization (1973) expert consultation on Animal Genetic Resources presented two important objections concerning the endeavour to improve and conserve the local chicken. The first was as to whether the local strains still possess genes, which are useful to the vastly improved exotic strains given the centuries of genetic screening, which the latter have undergone. The second objection pointed to the fact that the process of further screening of the local chicken will be long, laborious and very expensive. However, the results of recent research using local chicken (Ikeobi and Peters, 1996; Ayorinde et al., 2001; Udeh and Omeje, 2001) indicate that the local chicken is a repository of advantageous genes. Secondly, with molecular genetic techniques, genetic improvement of the local chicken is fast and less expensive. Incidentally, third world countries, which established breeding programmes based on the dilution of indigenous germplasm by extensive crossbreeding programme, suffered failures. Those failed efforts have made livestock breeders aware of the importance of indigenous breeds in overall food production systems – because of their adaptation to the environmental stress of the tropics.
In spite of the large number of livestock and poultry in the nation, the animal protein intake per caput per day still falls below the minimum requirement level recommended by UN/FAO (Ayodele and Ajani, 1999). This has been traced to the low production of animals, which could be due to genetic and/or environmental constraints. The above underscores the need to improve the level of animal protein production in Nigeria. Of greater importance is the improvement of the poultry sector since it has a number of advantages – including short generation interval, and production of large number of offspring, due to its peculiar reproductive traits (Ibe, 2001). Furthermore, poultry meat is generally accepted by all religions and societies.
In many countries the development of agriculture and breeding programmes has resulted in serious changes in poultry breeding stocks during the last decades. The establishment of breeding institutions has led to a pronounced supra-regional propagation of certain chicken breeds due to improvements in performance. As a consequence the local breeds have decreased continuously to the same extent as the preferred high performance breeds have expanded. For instance, it was in a bid to satisfy the need for increased production and profitability in intensive production systems to meet the increase in demand for animal protein by the populace that new high yielding and fast growing poultry breeds were introduced into the existing poultry production systems in Nigeria since the late 1950’s (Obioha, 1992). Incidentally, such introduction has resulted in non-integration of the local breeds considered as ‘low producers’ into large-scale poultry production.